Sectarianism: What went wrong?

SectarianismFarid Khan Kasi

Pakistan was born under the ideology of Two-Nation theory, this new state had promised a better future for the Muslims of sub-continent. But with changing times this theory received utmost criticism from every quarter especially at the time of “Debacle of Dhaka”, when majority left minority.

There were two main mistakes that were committed by the state in the incipient stage: it separated the group identities while it should have merged them: and it merged the regional identities (provinces) while it should have given them autonomy through decentralization. It mandated ‘separate electorates’ and formed, under duress, One Unit (one province) called West Pakistan out of four geographic entities.
What the non-Muslims implicitly wanted was a system of multiple identities in Pakistan. It meant that the state should stand aside and allow individual citizens to have whatever identity they wanted. The state of Pakistan instead held up a single identity for the ‘nation’ and sought to include the minorities separately with assurance of equal citizenship that did not appear credible. What is now Pakistan was predominantly a Low Church where Islam was practised around the shrines of mystical saints who provided religious guidance through folklore? It was gradually transferred to a High Church to fit in the legislation of the new state according to Islamic law and Shariah.

This transformation of Low Church to High Church resulted in an unbridled bigot and madrassas started influencing the private life of an individual. Here the seeds of sectarianism were sown. Problem of sectarianism received further impetus when Pakistan myopically started supporting Saudi-Arabia for the Petro-Dollar balance between Saudi (Wahabism) and Iran (Shiaism) and main reasons behind this support were: It had a large expatriate labour force stationed in the Arab Middle East, particularly in the region of the gulf where the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was formed in 1980 to ward off the Iranian threat.

Before 9/11 80% of Pakistan’s foreign remittances were earned from this region. Saudi-Arabia gave Pakistan the seed money for its Zakat fund which now stands at almost 12 billion annually to be distributed among the poor but which went pre-dominantly to the seminaries during the 1980s that were to be used by the state for the Afghan jihad.

Taliban were recruited from the Deobandi and Wahabi outfits under Saudi influence. Many mistakes were committed on the part of Shias too. They had ignored the centuries old jurisprudence of the Islamic schism and supported the principle of separation at independence. The biggest mistake occurred when they supported the apostatisation of Ahmedis in 1974 without realizing that once established the principle of apostatization or rendering a Muslim, non-Muslim could be applied to other sects too. The tendency to regard sect as a separate religion was always there but was ignored by its victims. Basic driving force behind the creation of Lej was the rejection of Zakat laws by the Shia’s.

This gave Zia-ul-Haq a chance to teach a lesson to the Shias all over Pakistan, especially Jhang. Mariam Abou Zahab is of the view that most remarkable figure to arise in this environment was Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi (1952-1990) who founded the SSP in 1985, not a little assisted by the intelligence agencies spearheading General Zia’s plan to teach the Shias of Jhang a lesson for having opposed his Zakat laws. According Abou Zahab, funding for Jhangvi came from the marketplace, from businessmen and drug dealers looking for protection. One major financier of SSP was Sheikh Yusuf, an MPA with contacts in the army who landed lucrative contracts for his construction company in Lahore-Islamabad motorway. Jhangvi had put together a strong organization of criminalized youth mostly from Muhajir (refugees from India). Khaled Ahmed in his book ‘Sectarian Wars’ has written quiet clearly that the ‘leader who plans the killing is working for money but the man who actually kills may be moved by religious passion’.

Now when the point scoring game is at its zenith because elections are round the corner Peoples Party is throwing the burden of Punjabi Taliban on the shoulders of Nawaz Sharif but the reality is a bit different. It is very likely that the current PML-N government in Punjab might have decided to ignore the presence sectarian outfits such as the SSP (now ASWJ) and LeJ as long as they continue to operate outside Punjab. The other reason might be the brainwashing that he received when he went on paid holidays to Saudi Arabia.

But it is also true that one of the first concentrated operation against the LeJ and SSP was initiated by the second PML-N government (1997-99).details about this operation can be read in the book ‘Talibanization of Pakistan’ by Amir Mir and ‘Pakistan’s drift into extremism’ by Hassan Abbas. LeJ had tried to topple Benazir’s second term as PM (1993-96) but they were not expecting Nawaz Sharif (who till then had been known as the establishment’s man) to break away from the orbit and act against outfits whose seeds were sown by Sharif’s mentor, Zia-ul-Haq. In 1999 Nawaz openly began to name the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for funding and training the SSP and LeJ.

In 1999 LeJ tried to assassinate Nawaz Sharif by blowing up the Lahore-Raiwand bridge but fortunately he escaped the blast minutes before it exploded. Alas! The operation became to halt because of the 1999 coup. Problem with the Shias of Balochistan is altogether different. The geographical location and multi-ethnic nature of the province makes the issue more complex. The biggest reason why Hazaras are targeted more is the consequences of the end game in Afghanistan (Balochistan’s contiguity to Taliban strongholds in Southern Afghanistan), Pipe line politics (US opposition to Iran’s quest for energy outlets via Balochistan) and the proxy war between Iran and Saudi-Arabia (which is a source of funding for LeJ) and its Gulf allies (like Bahrain which is recruiting hardliner Sunni LeJ supporters into its radical pro-Iran majority Shia population.

Matters are worsened by Pakistan’s military suspicion of the Persian-Speaking Shia Hazara community that is both Anti-Afghan Taliban (Pakistan assets) and pro-Iran. Now when sectarian violence has taken an all together a wrong turn. We as a nation should concentrate more on the diagnosis rather than the symptoms. State institutions should avoid face saving exercises because the issue is far more fatal than the petty administrative transfers. Ian Talbot is quiet right when he says “Pakistan politics is always dominated by personalities and patronage instead of Program and Policies”. Now Pakistan should concentrate more on institutional harmony instead of institutional clash and each and every institution should work in its prescribed ambit or else things will never change.

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